What kind of riffs do you like best?

We’ve talked about short riffs, long riffs, running riffs, obscure references, music, sight gags, and more, but what kinds of riffs are your favorite?

I absolutely love when a riff reinterprets the film in such a way that it puts a spin on what’s going on. So a quest to rescue a damsel from a wicked witch becomes a visit to grandma’s house. Any number of boisterous locations are played as family style restaurants, stuff like that. I think a big part of what makes I Accuse My Parents so great is that some of its running jokes so consistently do this-- every big gathering becomes a celebration of a high school essay contest, etc. I grew up watching mst3k, and I think as a kid these kinds of jokes appealed to my sense of pretend, especially when I didn’t get a lot of the references. It’s like taking a cardboard box and turning it into a boat or a castle with your imagination.

(Although in any iteration of the riffing format from Mst3k through the Mads’ livestreams, Trace barking “BANG!” when there’s a gun onscreen has the power to make me laugh like a small child, too. I guess riffing just keeps me young at heart.)

What kinds of riffs do you love best?

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I think some of the funniest riffs are when they put new dialog into an actor’s mouth (as opposed to making an observation or commenting on what they see). One of the best examples to me is the lead female in Horror at Party Beach saying “I don’t like slumber parties now that I’m in my forties” :joy:

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Oh, good example! “Please, little fart, stay inside my dress” in Devil Doll comes to mind. Or “So, you’re available, Sue…” in the short Are You Ready for Marriage?. My dad’s been doing this with the mute button since before we were misties, and it’s a classic.

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There’s something darkly magical about the “Deflationary” riffs. As in,

“An American Democracy…”

“Would be really great.” Or,

“The advertisers spend millions on package design.”

“And yet THIS is the result!”

There are many varieties of riff I love. But this is the one which I’d be proudest of if I could adopt it successfully. <3

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I like when they find a way to anthropomorphize/give a voice to anything they see. Couple great examples are the Giant Gila Monster and Crabby the Crab Hat!

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Those would be a subset of what I personally refer to as tack-on riffs. While the majority are deflationary in tone, others are just bizarre. For instance, from Cave Dwellers:

Dull Old Guy: “The next most important thing…”

Crow: “…is peanut butter.”

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My favorite kind of riff is the triple riff, where each of the three characters takes a turn at a riff with a common theme in immediate succession.

An example from The Giant Spider Invasion, with each of the gang taking a shot at Kester as he wanders about the farmland:

Mike: “Johnny Crappleseed.”
Crow: “Paul Infected Bunyan.”
Servo: “Old McDonald had a cyst.”

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My favorite example of this (outside of the Progress Island, U.S.A. riffs) comes from Time Chasers:

Nick: “This plane… well, it enables whoever’s inside it to, uh…”
Mike: “… get a film career that quickly dies.”

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Now you’re Mister File Cabinet!

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I’m also fond of musical riffs where the MST3K gang comes up with new lyrics for songs in the movies.

Operation Double 007 has some of my favorite riffs in this style, where they add to the portrait that the theme song is painting:

Joel: :musical_note: He gets his haircut on Tuesdays! :musical_note:
Crow: :musical_note: He prefers stuffing to potatoes! :musical_note:
Servo: :musical_note: His favorite movie is Turner and Hooch! :musical_note:

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies has a number of these, but I particularly love:

Singer: :musical_note: It hurts… :musical_note:
Servo: :musical_note: … to staple your eyeballs! :musical_note:

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There are two types that I just love and they’re really polar opposites in terms of how they work.

The one-off riff that just perfectly matches the image on the screen. The best example of this for me is from Laserblast. At the very end of the movie, green-faced Billy has a closeup yelling or roaring or whatever and Servo suddenly says, “Ecuadorian bat boy found alive in cave!” And that’s it. No reference to it again because it’s just that brief moment on the screen that fit and the riff is absolutely perfect.

But the other is the running gags. I watched Danger! Death Ray for the millionth time today and the joy they have with the music, plus the references to the “special effects by Billy!” “Billy’s out of the tub now, we can dive.”

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It’s hard to classify, but my favorite riffs will always be:

  1. The single moment reframed riff, where they reframe the context of just one line or moment currently up on screen as if the rest of the movie doesn’t existed (Classic examples would be “Football practice!”, “put your shoes on, we’re at grandma’s” or any scene where they pretend two characters are married and bickering about something stupid like putting out the recycling.)

  2. The one-step-removed joke, which I suppose could also be classified as the anti-State Park joke.
    For those who haven’t read the Amazing Colossal Episode Guide or heard Mary Jo, Kevin, or Mike speak about joke writing, a “State Park joke” is the laziest form of riffing since it’s not even a joke, it’s just an observation about the movie that any reasonably intelligent person is likely to have already made on their own. ex: “this scene looks like it was shot in a state park” “That guy’s fat” or the laziest of all riffs, “this film is bad.”
    The “one-step-removed” joke is the one that already assumes you’ve made (or are capable of making) the mental connection from point A to B, and starts off at point C instead. so instead of saying “looks like a State Park” you’d say something like “better wrap this up, there’s a tour group coming through.” This is also closely related to…

  3. The “go deep” reference, which requires you to not only recognize that a reference exists, but have a fundamental understanding of it’s functioning or context in order to get the joke. A classic example would be “Oh, he’s a Calvinist!” from Cave Dwellers.

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Not yet mentioned: “Set piece” riffs.

Some people (apparently) don’t like things like the Beach Boys riff in “Star Crash” (because it’s too long?) but when done well, I love it.

Another example would be the “Industry! Science! And technology!” series of riffs in the movie. Or the cardboard cutouts in Hobgoblins. The “Timmy” bits in Fire Maidens of Outer Space might also count, I’ll have to re-watch.

Anything where it’s like they’re building a parallel experience to the film.

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I do love these ones when they’re pop-culture related, or more specifically MST related. Any time they quote an old episode as a riff. I can’t recall specific scenes but I know I’ve heard them use “This is where the fish lives” from Devil Fish multiple times, as well as “Watch out for snakes!” from Eegah! of course. And there are more, I’m sure

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I really dig it when they stay for the end credits and they basically preform another host segment! They’ve managed to weave some incredible and hilarious narratives even all you see is just a long scroll of names for several minutes!

(That’s one of my bigger “nerdy hangups” about the Netflix era. They rarely stick around until the bitter end!)

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I have to say, my least favorite kind of riff are the callback jokes, especially when the new series started doing them with stuff from the Joel/Mike era, because it’s basically just “memba’ this?” and hardly ever funny. This especially applies to the whole “Idiot Control Now” subplot during The Gauntlet.

Pretty Niiice” I have no problem with, since that one came about naturally, and the same mostly goes for “Bang!” though I think that one’s been a tad overused as a cheap time-filler, but trotting out “watch out for snakes” every time there’s a shot of the desert ceased being funny a couple of decades ago.

That’s not to say there aren’t moments when a callback can be funny, especially if they can do it with a twist or hang a lampshade on it, but the timing and conditions have to be just right for it to be worth it. As Crow would advise any up-and-coming comedy writers considering making a Beyond Thunderdome joke… you can force it, but it’s better if you hold back until you can really slam a Thunderdome.

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The micro-skit is a tried and true way of dealing with long and boring parts of the movie, especially the end credits.
Mike and the bots momentarily getting distracted by ants eating a jolly rancher under the theater seats was a well-played “get out of boring movie free” card, but the end credit bits like calling movie tech support, trying to scam a free coffin, Tom’s enthusiastic crooning of Leave Bronx!, or the “conversation” with the director of Hobgoblins are pure comedy gold, and just as funny as any of the host segments.

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“Hence the exhibit” is another that I love from Cry Wilderness

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The response riff, where a character in the movie says something and the riffer responds to it, often mimicking one of the other characters in the scene. Here’s an example from Diabolik:

Ginko: Wonder how those guys would feel if they knew they were guarding all this waste paper instead of ten million dollars?

Mike: They’d feel hurt, sir.

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I love the musical parody riffs. But then again, I love me some Weird Al.

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